How to boost creativity and involve people
(1) We all need more creativity
Increasing complexity, growing uncertainties and shorter product life cycles increase the pressure to innovate. Creativity, speed and the required specialist knowledge are what count for the success of innovation. Responsible innovation should also take into account the aspects of responsibility and sustainability.
In the digital age, citizens are evolving from passive consumers to active creators not only of media content and public debate, but also of new products and services. They react quickly and globally to innovations.
Therefore, opening up the innovation process is becoming increasingly important. It enables creative people, experts and talents from outside the company to be involved and to use their ideas. In this way, customers can provide feedback and ideas early on in the development process. This ensures that new ideas usually fit better because they are immediately evaluated from different perspectives.Three components are needed to increase the creativity of a person or a group:
- Enough time: A high pressure to achieve the most creative results as quickly as possible prevents the best ideas from arising. Therefore, take enough time for creative exercises, workshops and processes.
- A supportive setting: If you want to develop creative ideas, you need to create a setting where people feel safe and unafraid – coupled with an approach that is as playful as possible. This means creating an atmosphere in which every idea, no matter how unconventional, is treated with respect.
- Creative impulses: In order to leave our habitual patterns of thinking and to really develop new ideas, it usually takes a little push, a creative impulse that goes against the grain of habitual ways of thinking.
(2) Developing innovations together
Innovation and creativity become a shared task involving companies, users, creative people and many other actors. Innovation is no longer a tinkering in the laboratory, at a university or in a quiet little room, but an interactive, multi-layered process that can and should be professionally managed despite its dynamics.
Open Innovation means the use of external information and external knowledge. Often, this is done by opening up innovation processes, allowing external people to gain insights into the entrepreneurial activity and at the same time allowing the company to benefit from their ideas and inputs. Open innovation also includes the understanding that a company does not always have to develop everything on its own.
Two things are particularly important in any innovation process:
- Precise problem definition
The problem to be solved or the goal to be achieved must first be precisely defined. If this is not the case, the creativity process leads in the wrong direction. The results would be unsuitable ideas, wasted time and frustration. This is not to be confused with the fact that it can sometimes be useful in the process to go "back to the start" - then you have gained insights that lead to a new - again exact - problem definition.
- Separation of idea generation and evaluation
The separation of idea generation and evaluation is essential. People tend to make hasty assessments that do not allow a proper creative process to develop at all. In the ideation phase, care must be taken to ensure that all participants work together without being interrupted by evaluative comments (whether positive or negative).
Some widely used innovation approaches and methods are:LEAD USER METHOD
The Lead User method is based on the recognition that innovations are often driven by particularly progressive users and customers and not by the manufacturers. Lead users are progressive users or inventors, pioneers in their field, who feel the needs before the masses have them. They should be involved at the earliest possible stage. LEAD users are often dissatisfied with the products or processes existing on the market, therefore benefitting greatly from an innovation themselves and providing extremely valuable inputs. They know the product well, have already thought about its weaknesses and possibilities for improvement and are highly motivated. However, finding them can be tricky. Consulting companies have specialised in tracking down lead users.
Crowdsourcing uses special internet platforms to address a large number of people within a very short time and to involve them in the different phases of an innovation process. This can be, for example, troubleshooting or optimising the usability of new software (crowd-testing). It is also very easy to conduct surveys on the needs of potential customers. The gathering of ideas (crowd-sourcing) and the search for joint financing (crowdfunding) are also part of this. The advantages of crowdsourcing are its speed and wide reach. Its disadvantages may be that you do not know exactly who will participate and that the communication only takes place in writing (which, compared to a direct meeting, shortens the content and makes it almost impossible to ask questions).
One method that is widely used in the context of open innovation is design thinking (see diagram), which is also referred to as approach, method and "mindset" at the same time. It focuses on the clear formulation of the problem to be solved and the open-ended approach with several iteration loops. Diverging and converging phases alternate with each other to achieve the greatest possible creativity. In the first place, one deals in detail with the topic, i.e. with the problem.
The problem space contains three phases:
- Understand: first of all, it is important to understand what (from every angle) belongs to the topic and what it is all about (opening process - divergent).
- Empathize/observe: In particular, this also means to deal intensively with the different perspectives of the customers ("users").
- Define: Based on these findings, a convergent phase focuses on the exact problem to be solved (this may differ from the initial question after the Understand and Empathize phase).
In turn, the solution space also consists first of a diverging part and a following converging part with the phases:
- Finding Ideas: Now as many (even weird, crazy looking, unusual) ideas as possible are developed. For the time being, feasibility and financial viability are deliberately not taken into account. Creativity may and should be given free rein, and that is where creativity methods help. Only later will the ideas be evaluated, restricted and selected in order to quickly develop the first prototypes.
- Develop prototypes: When an idea is more or less defined, the first prototypes can be developed. When building a prototype, additional important insights into functionality, processes, interrelationships, form etc. can be gained.
- Testing: Ideally, prototypes are developed quickly and easily, tested with future users, then improved in order to be optimized after further testing.
The Design Thinking approach necessitates a certain mix of participants in the innovation team (ideally a group of 7-10 people). Besides different gender, age, social and professional background, attention should also be paid to the usage habits of the product/service. It is advantageous if the following groups of people are represented in the innovation team (Extreme users, Average Users, Non-users, Creative and Experts)
An open-ended innovation process cannot/must not be linear, as the iteration loops in Design Thinking are intended to illustrate. It involves possibly going back to the start after a few Design Thinking steps, or "finding ideas" and "prototyping" several times, if it helps finding a good result. Sometimes the results of the test phase show that you have to "define viewpoints" again.
Real laboratories are a form of cooperation between science and civil society with the aim of developing, testing and further researching sustainable solutions in a simultaneously experimental and real environment over a longer period of time. Real laboratories can involve universities, municipalities, companies, non-profit organisations and representatives of civil society. In real laboratories, the technical-scientific concept of the laboratory is expanded to include a social context so that the knowledge developed can be more easily taken up by politics, civil society and business and so that society becomes more capable of acting in questions of sustainable development.
Thematically, real laboratories usually focus on districts or entire cities, because the socio-technical structures of modern societies are almost completely found here - from energy and heat supply to nutrition, the provision of mobility to educational and cultural functions - but appear to be manageable in their complexity. And because cities are often the places where cultural changes and changing lifestyles are generated, they are a suitable social experimental space.
Science and civil society also cooperate in Living Labs with the aim of user-oriented research. Experimental approaches are tested in a real context with the participation of the users in order to develop solutions to complex problems that are as close as possible to the users' reality. The cooperation of different actors should reduce complexity and uncertainties and increase the chance of sustainable solutions. The developed ideas are tested in real situations, then evaluated and new products, services or concepts are developed. This is where Living Labs differs somewhat from real-life laboratories: Living Labs have as a frame of reference individual households, blocks of flats or streets, in which especially new technologies or (household-related) intervention strategies are investigated.
(3) Design and support innovation processes
The selection of participants is an essential part that should not be underestimated. A good process with the wrong people does not bring much. A distinction is made between the selective involvement of external people, e.g. when surveying customer needs or testing prototypes (as a one-off event or via the crowd) and people who participate in the entire innovation process as part of the innovation team.
Responsibility and sustainability: If special attention is to be paid to these aspects in innovation, it is advisable to invite people to the innovation team who can contribute these aspects.
The members of the innovation team should bring a certain degree of creativity, openness, curiosity and willingness to communicate. Although the phases, methods and moderation described support the innovation process, it increases the chances of good results if the participants meet some of these criteria beforehand.
A motivated, steady innovation team is essential. Personal recommendations are helpful to put together the team, and some Open Innovation providers can take over this task. Whether the participants receive compensation has to be determined individually - but actually it is the intrinsic motivation that leads to good results. When involving a large number of people (in prototype tests or via the crowd), sometimes small gifts are given, or competitions are used (there are experienced providers for this).
Another essential success factor is clarity and transparency when involving external parties. The people involved must know from the outset what is desired from them, what they can contribute to, what they can help shape - but also, and especially, what they cannot help shape. Questions such as "Who then owns the idea?" and how to proceed with it should also be clarified. Failure to do so can easily destroy motivation or trust - and thus the basis for any future cooperation.
Good process support and moderation enables the members of the innovation team to fully devote themselves to the main question at hand. It provides guidance, begins and ends phases in an appropriate form, selects the appropriate methods and ensures that everyone can contribute equally. Attention is also paid to the correct documentation between phases.
The location and working atmosphere also influence the creative process. This is not a main criterion, but a room in which people feel comfortable, with an inspiring effect that can take them out of their everyday thoughts, together with attractive furniture inviting creative activity (scribbling, drawing, modelling ...) have positive effects.
(4) Apply creativity techniques
Some widely used innovation approaches and methods are:METHOD 6-3-5
Is the most common method of written idea generation and development. Work is done in groups of 5. Each person enters 3 ideas into the top section of a form in 5 minutes. The forms then switch to the next person. Each person reads the ideas, gets inspired and then enters 3 ideas in 5 minutes in the second section of the form, and so on, until the form reaches the first person, who then enters ideas in the last section. In half an hour, 120 ideas can be generated - without hasty evaluations, since no one speaks during this time. It is important that the participants write clearly and legibly and that they are able to withstand a "lull in thinking" that often occurs after the 3 round.
In a first step, a "classic" brainstorming session is held on a concrete problem until no further ideas come up (so-called dead point). In a second step, an essential element of the problem is highlighted and transformed into an imaginary problem (an imaginary problem in an imaginary setting, such as superpowers, unlimited financial resources, etc.). This should help to break out of given thought patterns or always the same solution patterns and to develop alternatives. In a third step, another brainstorming session is held on the imaginary problem. The ideas gained from this brainstorming are then applied to the real problem. If necessary, a further element of the problem can then be varied and worked on in a further brainstorming session. It is important that the rules of good communication are adhered to (no negative criticism, taking up and further development of foreign ideas).
REIZWORD/ RIDIENTIAL IMAGE Method
Words or images can stimulate our creativity. Therefore, the stimulus word method uses words or images found by chance and transfers their functions or properties to the respective problem. For example, the word railway or the image of a railway can be used to inspire new work processes: Who is the "locomotive"? Which "points" have to be set? Where are "stations"?
The method is suitable for both technical and non-technical problems, which can be broken down to independently workable subproblems.
The desired result is available as a question, e.g. "What can we do so that our customers get XY? However, the "upside down" question "What can we do to make sure that our customers do not get XY in the first place? If enough ideas have been developed here, findings from these are transferred to the original question.
The method helps to break out of entrenched patterns of thought and to look at the essentials. Besides, answering the headstand question can be a lot of fun and thus stimulate the flow of ideas.
In a role play, a problem is viewed from three defined perspectives - that of the dreamer, the realist and the critic. The three areas are marked, for example, by chairs with these roles. From a neutral position the problem is first named and analysed. Then the three positions (and the respective roles) are physically taken one after the other and the problem is argued from this aspect. This happens until a good idea is developed.
- The dreamer is creative, crazy, chaotic or enthusiastic and is allowed to develop ideas without any guidelines or restrictions. There are no limits to the imagination.
- The realist thinks about how it can work: He examines the necessary steps to realize the ideas gained and considers concretely and pragmatically how the dream can be realized.
- The critic questions the two previous positions. By challenging, identifying vulnerabilities and checking the specifications of the other two. Constructive and positive criticism help to identify possible sources of error.
Professional moderation is recommended to ensure that the roles are really taken on by the participants.
(5) Select promising ideas.
Just as important as the creativity methods are the evaluation methods to get from a multitude of ideas to those where it is worthwhile to think further and develop them into prototypes. Users are often overwhelmed in this process. No "method" can do this either, it needs the business perspective and professional expertise.
The evaluation is carried out according to previously defined criteria such as customer benefit, possible obstacles, differentiation potential, expected market success, technical feasibility, possibilities for market introduction, sales potential, profitability, etc. There are several supporting methods such as matrices, portfolios, strength-weakness analyses etc., which are known from other areas. It is important to know which method is suitable in which situation and for which participants.
Design Thinking provides for the development of prototypes very soon after the selection of an idea, i.e. rapid prototyping into haptic, concrete elaboration - without investing a lot of time and money. The development of prototypes very often gives helpful hints about details that are not mentioned when simply "talking about it".
Prototypes can - depending on the topic - take very different forms: Paper prototypes, Lego, plasticine, mock-up, story board, short film, folder etc. The important thing is that the creation of the prototype leads the group to think about the details (form, functions, processes, appearance etc.). Any prototype, however, quickly and easily created, should be tested immediately.
In the test phase, the users are again very helpful. Feedback and suggestions for improvement can be obtained (even on very simple prototypes). The knowledge gained is then immediately incorporated and the prototype revised. It is possible that other ideas will be developed based on the feedback, if you realize that a solution that was initially seen as ideal does not fit after all.
There is no such thing as "failure"; improvement loops are part of it. Working with iteration of idea - prototype - testing - improve prototype - testing helps to quickly gain experience with the product/service and then work continuously with simple means until perfection is achieved. A highly developed innovation (the new "product") is then actually manufactured and tested again relatively far back in the process. Until then the costs were very low, but a lot of experience could already be gained.